How Accurately Do You Remember the Exodus Story?

From Israel’s enslavement in Egypt to their wondrous crossing of the Red Sea, the first fourteen chapters of Exodus are some of the most well-known stories in all of Scripture, which added a degree of gravity to preaching through them last year. Yet, as is almost always the case, well-known is a bit of a misnomer. It would probably be more accurate to say that we think that we know exodus story. The reality is that most of us remember the broad story beats: slavery, Moses in a basket, burning bush, plagues, Red Sea. And we allow our imaginations, films, or a combination of both to fill in some of the details.

I, thus, began our church’s study by praying to the LORD for eyes to see the exodus as Scripture actually describes and to allow God’s Word to truly speak to our listening ears.

God graciously answered that prayer. As we marched through Exodus 1-14, we began to see many misconceptions that are widely held about account of the exodus that are not derived from Scripture. Thankfully, none of these misconceptions are a heretical twisting of Scripture; they are simply the effect of a kind of cultural memory within the church, a rehearsing of the story without carefully harkening to the text itself. Yet as a people of the Book, whenever we discover such misconceptions (as we will always be found having in this life), we are obligated to rewrite our understanding to conform it to the truth of Scripture.

While we could certainly point to details like Aaron acting as Moses’ prophet to Pharaoh, here are three corrections to some common misconceptions that relate to the very heart of the exodus story.

1. Israel Didn’t Want to Leave Egypt

“Deliver Us,” the opening song to The Prince of Egypt, is simply stirring. The Hebrew slaves cry out under the desert sun: “Deliver us to the Promise Land!” Sadly, that is not how the Bible portrays the Israelites. Exodus 2:23-25 reports Israel’s cry for deliverance:

During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel– and God knew.

Notice that the Israelites did not cry out for God to remember the covenant that He made with their ancestors to bring them into the land of Canaan. No, God remembered. Sure, they groaned and cried out because of their slavery but notably not about Egypt as a whole. They never cried to be taken out of Egypt, only to be rescued from the bitterness of their slavery. Indeed, the Israelites later cried to Moses on the shores of the Red Sea, “Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians” (14:12). Instead, many of them very likely worshiped Egyptian gods (Joshua 24:14) and, after 430 years, likely felt far more at home in Egypt than they did with the idea of Canaan.

They wanted only freedom from slavery, not the Promised Land. They loved Egypt, which is why in the wilderness they so often longed to return to it. God, therefore, was not simply delivering His people out of slavery; He was delivering them from a lesser and insufficient love. He was resolved to bless them, even if they did not want to be blessed. He was resolved to uphold His covenant to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, even if the descendants of the patriarchs had forgotten it or were simply apathetic to it.

2. God did not demand to Pharaoh a permanent exodus.

Even though the LORD always had the intention of bringing the Israelites out of Egypt entirely, He commanded Moses to only request their temporary journey into the wilderness to sacrifice and hold a feast to God. This continued with each of Moses’ speeches to Pharaoh throughout the outpouring of the plagues. His message to Pharaoh is almost always: “Thus says the LORD, ‘Let my people go, that they may serve me’” (Exodus 8:1). He never demands of Pharaoh the permanent exodus of Israel, even though that is exactly what God promised to do.

The LORD purposely kept the demand for Pharaoh’s obedience low so that Israel’s exodus would be all the more glorious whenever God used the hard-hearted Pharaoh to accomplish it. In other words, the LORD did not want to merely rip the Israelites out of Pharaoh’s obstinate hands (although He certainly could have!); instead, He wanted to so thoroughly dismantle the king of Egypt that he would not only consent to God’s will but would be the instrument for accomplishing God’s will. Although Pharaoh claimed to be divine, the one true God was determined to show the king of Egypt just how limited his claim of sovereignty really was.

We should rightly take great comfort from this truth. Although God is by no means the author of evil, it can by no means escape His sovereign will. In Ephesians 3:11, Paul referred to the gospel as God’s “eternal purpose,” which means that the creation, fall, and redemption of the cosmos was always God’s plan. Satan’s rebellion and humanity’s descent into sin did not catch the Creator by surprise. Rather, He permitted evil to darken His creation in order “to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 3:9-10), which brings us to our third point.

3. The supreme purpose of the exodus was to make God’s name known to both Israel and Egypt and to Pharaoh personally.

The exodus, like our own salvation, is not ultimately about us but about God. Israel was redeemed out of Egypt so that the glory of God’s name would be made known throughout the world.

Before Exodus 3, Moses did not know, or at least did not understand, God’s name, and in Exodus 5, Pharaoh reveled in his ignorance of God’s name. Both were followed with God declaring that He is the LORD, Yahweh.

To Israel, God said in 6:7: “I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.”

Of the Egyptians, God said in 7:5: “The Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them.”

To Pharaoh, God said in 7:17: “By this you shall know that I am the LORD: behold, with the staff that is in my hand I will strike the water that is in the Nile, and it shall turn into blood.”

Then before the parting of the sea, God told Moses in 14:4: “And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, and the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD.”

Indeed, before the waters engulfed them, the Egyptian soldiers cried out, “Let us flee from before Israel, for the LORD fights for them against the Egyptians” (14:25). And on the other side of the sea, Moses and the Israelites made this mighty confession of praise: “The LORD is his name” (15:3). The purpose of the exodus was explicitly to make God’s name known to Israel, to Egypt, to Pharaoh, and to all the world. Each plague was a judgment upon the so-called gods of Egypt, forcing Israelite and Egyptian alike to admit that there is no god like the LORD, Yahweh. He alone is majestic in holiness, the King of kings and Lord of lords.

So it is with our own salvation, for “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). As 1 Peter 2:9 testifies, we are redeemed in Christ that we “may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” Our salvation certainly results in our good, but it is ultimately for God’s glory


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